The Secret of Forgiveness
Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )
Forgiving people and not holding grudges against them is not only good for them -it's also good for us. Sometimes the anger we hold inside against someone who has treated us unkindly hurts us even more than what they did to us in the first place. But forgiving can be hard; how can we do it?
This week's portion reveals the secret. Joseph's brothers had treated him very unkindly and sold him into slavery. Yet when he met them again many years later, he didn't hold any grudge whatsoever against them. How was that possible? Because Joseph realized the amazing truth that everyone in our lives are, in a deeper sense, God's 'messengers.' Whatever they say or do is only because God is sending us some sort of a message, and what's the point of getting angry at the messenger? Not only that, since the message is coming from God, ultimately it's for our best. Once we learn to live with this outlook, we will lead much happier lives filled with forgiveness and free from the pain of grudges.
In our story, a kid learns the secret of forgiveness in most unlikely place.
"ESCAPE FROM THE DUNGEON"
The kids in Mrs. Kaplan's history classes felt like they had stepped back into the Middle Ages. As a special class trip she had taken them to Manor Castle, a history museum inside a real 800-year-old castle that had been brought, brick by brick, from overseas and reconstructed just as it had been.
"This place is absolutely amazing, isn't it Ellen?" said Naomi, with wide open eyes, as they made their way through the stately, candle-lit halls and chambers.
"Yeah, I guess so," muttered the girl under her breath. Even though the unheated castle was pretty cold, Ellen was boiling.
"Hey, what's the matter with you?" asked Naomi, surprised at her usually bubbly friend's curt answer.
"I'm sorry Naomi," she said, "I'm just really upset."
"You mean to tell me you're not upset about how all those kids from the older class just pushed ahead of us like we didn't exist and took all the good seats on the bus? I'm lucky I didn't have to sit in the baggage compartment!"
Naomi shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, that? Yeah I guess it wasn't so nice, but forget it, and let's enjoy the trip. What's the point of letting a couple of minutes of unpleasantness ruin our whole day? Anyway, they were only 'messengers.' Hey, did you hear that? The guide just said we're going down to the dungeon next!"
The dungeon was just where those pushy kids belonged as far as Ellen was concerned. How could her friend just forgive and forget like that? And what in the world had she meant by 'messengers'? But before she had a chance to ask, the guide began leading everyone down a thin, curving stairway. Ellen tried to calm down as she held tight to the metal railing. But she was also holding tight to her grudge. How could she just forgive those thoughtless kids?
"Now nobody get scared..." bellowed Tom, the big, redheaded guide who looked like he fit right into the medieval setting, "...but this is the chamber where the master of the castle would take his prisoners. You know, back then the kings were very cruel. They would even punish, or kill, a messenger that brought them bad news!"
The kids gasped. "Wow, wasn't that dumb?" commented Ellen to Naomi. "What was the point of getting mad at the messenger?"
"So why do you do the same thing?"
Ellen was taken aback by her friend's strange comment. "Do the same thing? What are you talking about?"
Naomi smiled. "Like I said, those kids on the bus were also just messengers - from God."
"Messengers from God? What are you talking about?"
"Nothing happens for nothing. Whatever happens is really just God's way of talking to us and giving us a message that somehow we need to hear."
"Like what kind of messages?"
"There are lots of different messages. Maybe we had once done something similar to someone else, and God sends us a messenger to teach us how it feels so we won't do it again..."
Ellen blushed, remembering how she had jumped in front of a little kid to grab a seat on the way to school just that morning.
Naomi went on. "Or maybe the messenger is coming to stop us from doing something we think will be good for us but really isn't, or to get us to do something we didn't know that we should. Sometimes the message is pretty clear, and other times we may not understand the message, or why it's good right away, but the message is always there."
Ellen nodded. "Okay, let's say that those kids on the bus really were 'messengers,' but wasn't it still wrong of them to act that way?"
"Maybe it was, but that's their business to work out. What matters for us is that we had to hear a message, and one way or the other God was going to tell it to us. If those kids hadn't been the ones to deliver the message, someone or something else would have. So why not just forgive and forget instead of feeling angry and miserable by holding a grudge?
"It's like we learned in Torah class about how Joseph met up with his brothers who sold him as a slave. That's how he was able to forgive them, by realizing they were God's messengers. And that's why staying mad at people doesn't make any more sense than one of those medieval kings who used to kill their messengers."
In his booming voice, Tom announced, "Now follow me upstairs to the royal banquet hall!"
Ellen thought about what Naomi said. It would certainly make it easier to drop a grudge and go on with life. She breathed easier as she climbed the stairs and felt ironically like she had begun to climb out of the 'dungeon' of grudge-bearing, and entered the 'banquet hall' of forgiveness.
Q. How did Ellen feel at first about the idea of not holding a grudge against the kids who pushed her on the bus?
A. She felt that since they did something wrong, she should stay angry at them.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She realized that she could think of those kids as being God's 'messengers' and forgive them instead of staying mad.
Q. Why did Ellen feel better after talking with Naomi?
A. Naomi helped her realize that whatever people do or say to us isn't just by chance. God is watching over us and wouldn't let anything happen to us unless it was to give us a message and teach us something we needed to know. Once she heard this, she was able to drop her grudge against the big kids, and that felt good because the only ones that holding grudges hurt - are us.
Q. Why does God send us messages?
A. One of our main purposes in life is grow into better and kinder people. Therefore, God sends us hidden messages along the way to help us reach our goal. Those messages come to us from the people we meet, and what they say and do. It's a pretty amazing system, but then again God is pretty amazing.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. How can we learn to become more aware of the messages God is sending us?
A. Once we realize that God is truly sending us messages, we are well on the way to becoming more aware of them. It is helpful to remind ourselves of this concept from time to time because it is easy to forget when we're in the middle of a busy day. Of course, we can't know for certain what God is telling us, but often we can get a pretty good idea of which direction He's guiding us to go.
Q. Why does God hide His messages in the words and actions of other people instead of just talking to us directly?
A. There are a number of reasons, but a big one is that God wants us to have free choice whether or not to listen to Him. This is because we grow much more if we freely choose to come close to Him rather than feel compelled. If we were to hear 'directly' from God we would be so blown away by the experience, that we would have virtually no choice but to listen.